With the year drawing to a close comes the raft of awards – IRB Player Of The Year as well as IRB Team Of The Year.
In addition, newspaper publications will be listing their respective awards and combing through the stats to reinforce the reasoning behind their selections.
I have decided to do the same thing but from a completely different angle. Though I will be doing a world XV, it will celebrate those that have manfully toiled for their country yet only been mentioned in passing, like a whisper in the wind.
Today I salute them, selecting those players for my underrated XV.
Loosehead Prop – Alex Corbisiero (England)
The American-born prop, when fit, has been at the forefront of everything good about England’s pack.
Though Dan Cole has played well for England (and been selected on more occasions than Corbisiero), it was his performance in the third Lions Test that puts the Northampton prop in my underrated XV. He carried the ball destructively in Sydney, with one of his carries allowing him to burrow in for the first try of that memorable game against the Wallabies.
But in the scrums is where he showed his key talents. He blew away the Australian pack, winning penalty after penalty in the scrum to allow the Lions to dominate Australia and control the game.
Corbisiero’s injury was a loss for England during the autumn internationals, though they did unearth a gem in young prop Mako Vunipola.
Hooker – Richard Hibbard (Wales)
The Welshman has had an excellent year. His dominant display for Wales has cemented the position of hooker for his country and region, the Ospreys.
Though his lineout throws are competent, as well as his work in the scrum stable, it is in his tackling and ball carrying where he comes alive.
His determination to advance the hard yards produces momentum and helps the diminutive Welsh backs to score tries. Moreover, his tackling is as fierce as they come, as in the Six Nations and end of year Tests he inflicted several bone crunching hits.
Nicholas Sanchez & Ben Mowen certainly felt the full force of Hibbard’s tackling in November.
Tighthead Prop – Euan Murray (Scotland)
Some might raise eyebrows, but in my view Euan Murray is their best player in Scotland’s front five. The Worcester Warriors’ prop is Scotland’s most potent weapon in their scrum and adds impetus in the pack.
It is a crying shame that Murray does not play on Sundays due to his religious beliefs, as it does rob Scotland of an important player – especially when they play on Sundays during the Six Nations or autumn internationals.
His devoutness to Christianity, however, is something to be respected.
Lock – Manuel Carizza (Argentina)
I would have added fellow Pumas lock Patricio Albacete, but the Toulouse veteran was sidelined for most of the Rugby Championship with injury. Still, Carizza performed admiringly for the Argentineans in their winless campaign.
The 29-year-old lock tackled well and scavenged hard in the lineout, with his performances certainly not going unnoticed by me. It certainly did not go unnoticed by the Stormers either, who have signed him for Super Rugby’s 2014 season.
With Eben Eztebeth out for six months, Carizza can show his talents in Super Rugby. Richie McCaw certainly felt it last year at La Plata.
Lock – Joe Launchbury (England)
The young Wasps lock continued his good form from the end of last year into 2013. The 22 year old was one of England’s brightest stars in the Six Nations and it was certainly a shock when he was omitted from the Lions touring party to Australia.
The towering behemoth showed his talents with his displays in the lineout, safeguarding English ball and making a nuisance of the opposition’s throw. His disruption in the lineout reminded me of the days when South African locks Victor Matfield & Bakkies Botha regularly stole opposition’s lineout ball during the 2007 World Cup.
In the end of year tests he continued his good form and capped it off with a try from a maul in their valiant defeat to the All Blacks. Talk of Joe Launchbury being a future England captain is not so far off the mark.
Blindside Flanker – Dan Lydiate (Wales)
There were several contenders to pick, as there are a plethora of good 6s in world rugby, but in the end I chose Dan Lydiate.
His ability to harass at the breakdown is excellent but it is in his tackling where Lydiate shines. His tackles scythe down his opponents, allowing fellow players to rush in and win penalties.
In defence Lydiate is resolute – he never gives ground but merely pushes them back. It was no coincidence that Top 14 big spenders Racing Metro signed him from the Dragons last summer.
Openside Flanker – Pablo Matera (Argentina)
To pick a No.7 was tough, as there were several options: New Zealand’s Steven Luatua along with Australia’s Michael Hooper, Ireland’s Sean O’Brien or Argentina’s Juan Manuel Leguizamon.
But I chose Leguizamon’s team-mate Pablo Matera. The young flanker burst onto the scene after a series of impressive performances for Argentina in the Junior World Championship.
The 20 year old made his debut in the Rugby Championship and acquitted himself brilliantly. He played the South Africans at their own game and in the return game at Mendoza scrapped brutally (landing him an eye gouge charge that he was cleared of) with Francois Louw and Willem Alberts.
Scouts noted his exploits and he had several admirers, notably in France. He went to Leicester Tigers, though could have gone to the Auckland Blues (where he would have no doubt excelled).
That Sir John Kirwan moved for him showed why he is one of the world’s most coveted talents.
Number 8 – Sergio Parisse (Italy)
I could have chosen Toby Faletau, Louis Picamoles or Jamie Healslip, but Parisse won it for me due to his talismanic performances for Italy whether they win or lose.
The Stade Francais stalwart has been at the heart of Italian rugby since making his debut as an 18 year old against the All Blacks in 2002.
In every game that Parisse has played for Italy he has done something magical. Whether it be scoring a drop goal, passes from the back of his hand as good as Quade Cooper or his ability to go past the gainline, Sergio Parisse is at the heart of everything good about Italian rugby.
Even during the dark days, when Italy were regularly thumped in the Six Nations during the mid 2000s, Parisse grew like a phoenix when on the field and defiantly lashed out at their critics – showing that Italy deserved to be there and can play rugby.
Their performances in the 2013 Six Nations certainly showed that, with Parisse at the forefront of home wins against France and Ireland. Apart from Kieran Read, there is no doubt that Sergio Parisse is the best Number 8 in world rugby.
Scrum Half – Greig Laidlaw (Scotland)
Choosing a No.9 was tough, especially as there hasn’t been any underrated scrum halves that have played international rugby this year. My pick is Greig Laidlaw – I have previously talked about him at length and his performances for Scotland have shown why.
The Edinburgh scrum half is a player who loves to snipe at opposition defences and always looks for a chance to propel his team forward.
But it is in his kicking where he excels. The man can punish teams that concede penalties and it is a testament to Scotland that they have replaced Chris Paterson, another player whose goal kicking was accomplished.
Australia should know Laidlaw’s kicking talents, as he punished them in Newcastle last year when he slotted in the winner at the death for a famous victory in horrible conditions.
Fly Half – Dan Biggar (Wales)
I could have chosen Argentine fly half Nicholas Sanchez (putting in 12 tackles against the All Blacks is a very good effort), but instead I chose the Ospreys’ stand off.
The Welshman helped reinforce his claim to the No.10 jersey in the Six Nations by putting in assured performances, which allowed Wales to win the trophy with a flawless victory against England in Cardiff.
Added to that, he has managed to reach an impressive milestone, which is becoming only the second player to reach 1,000 points in the Pro 12. Barring injury, Biggar will no doubt be Wales’ fly half in the 2014 Six Nations.
Left Wing – Charles Piutau (New Zealand)
I have chosen the young Blues flyer because of his excellent performances for the Blues in Super Rugby and the impression he made on the All Blacks during the end of year Tests.
His speed and strength have served him well, but his outrageous pass for Kieran Read’s try against France caught the eye along with the try he also scored. So long as he keeps his good form then Charles Piutau is certainly an All Black for the future.
Right Wing – Alex Cuthbert (Wales)
The Cardiff Blues flyer is a deadly finisher who has shown time and time again his ability to score when it matters. His exploits against England in the Six Nations when he scored two tries showed that he will be there for Wales when the time comes.
Moreover, he scored tries for the Lions in the first and third Tests against Australia, helping them to a historic 2-1 victory. He is one of the first names on the team sheet when fit and his loyalty to the Blues is heartening.
There are many French clubs in the Top 14 who would jump at the chance of acquiring him should it arise.
Inside Centre – Marcelo Bosch (Argentina)
This might be a choice that may surprise a few people. But from an Argentine backline which suffered from a lack of creativity and tries, it was Bosch who enhanced his reputation.
The 29 year old battled hard in a backline that was physical and rugged, but lacked the ability to unlock defences or make the most of an opportunity.
His highlight was against South Africa in Mendoza where he was a lion on the pitch in attack and defence. His try raised hopes that the Pumas could achieve a historic victory in Mendoza against the Springboks before they threw the game away.
Bosch’s performances in the Rugby Championship were rewarded, as he moved to English Premiership giants Saracens in October.
Outside Centre – Jonathan Davies (Wales)
The Welsh centre is an exceptional talent who has grown into a world-class player in the past year.
Davies can run excellent lines that can unlock defences. His support play is excellent, allowing him to reward line breaks made by other players – something a coach always likes to see.
His performances for the Scarlets and Wales attracted the interest of French giants Clermont Auvergne, who have signed him for next season. It is certainly a coup for Clermont, but a huge blow for the Scarlets to part with such a talent.
Moreover, Wales will rue his loss during the Six Nations as he is sidelined till April with a pectoral injury.
Full Back – Mike Brown (England)
Though the Harlequins ace played on the wing in the Six Nations for England, it was when he was switched to his preferred position at No.15 for the end of year tests where Brown showed his talents.
Against the Wallabies he was magnificent when he created line breaks, took the game to Australia and carried forward. Under the high ball he was assured and challenged for possession whenever he tried the up and under.
It was his performances during the end of year Tests that, at least till the Six Nations, cemented Brown the No.15 jersey where before Mike Brown, Ben Foden and Alex Goode had worn it. After the end of the autumn internationals there was no doubting Mike Brown had been England’s most improved player.
And there we have it – our underrated XV. Well, underrated as it can be.
I hope you have enjoyed the 2013 rugby year and have enjoyed my articles. Thank you for reading them: you are stars each and every one of you!